A military operation to rescue the remaining 21 Korean hostages held by Taliban in Afghanistan began on Wednesday, hours after a Taliban deadline expired, a provincial official said.
"The operation has started," said Khowja Seddiqi, the district chief of Ghazni's Qarabagh district, where the Taliban kidnapped 23 Korean Christian volunteers nearly two weeks ago.
He did not give more details or say which forces were involved.
Any attempt to rescue the hostages is fraught with risk, as the kidnappers have split the 18 women and three men into small groups and are holding them in different locations across the mainly flat terrain.
The Taliban could not be immediately be contacted, but spokesmen for the movement have repeatedly said any use of force would jeopardize the lives of the hostages.
Earlier the army had dropped leaflets warning civilians of an assault.
"The national army has dropped leaflets from helicopters telling people in several districts to evacuate their houses because it wants to launch an operation," said Khowja Seddiqi, district chief of Qarabagh, in Ghazni province.
The Taliban have killed two male hostages after the Afghan government refused to accept demands to free jailed insurgents.
The defense ministry said earlier that the Afghan National Army had launched an operation in Ghazni, but insisted it was "routine" and was not linked with the kidnapping.
Earlier in the day, a Taliban spokesman said the group was expecting to hear from Afghan mediators over its demand for the government to release prisoners, but insisted some of the hostages would be killed if that demand was not met by 3:30 a.m. EST.
The Afghan government has said that giving in to rebel demands would only encourage more kidnapping.
Last Mod: 01 Ağustos 2007, 16:54